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Sony sees RED with PMW-F3 camera, we go hands-on with the $16k "indie" (video)

Trent Wolbe
T. Wolbe|11.19.10

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Sony sees RED with PMW-F3 camera, we go hands-on with the $16k "indie" (video)
In the wild, wild world of film production it's sometimes tough to separate the consumers from the prosumers from the independent filmmakers from the big studios -- especially when more affordable technology makes it easier and easier for one class to imitate the other. Sony's latest 35mm CMOS imager video camera is an attempt to cover lost ground in the "indie" realm of requisite low-budget and desired high production value, a market dominated by the RED One, and to some extent Canon's 5D Mark II and 7D, for the past couple years.

Sony's PMW-F3 -- shipping in February -- is a considerable step up from the earlier EX3. The most obvious change is the inclusion of the new Exmor Super 35 CMOS sensor and interchangeable lens mounts, facilitating shallow depth of field with a fairly impressive dynamic range. But at the price of a semester's worth of film school, will this offering hold its own in the field?

Read on for our full impressions -- including all the gory details -- and video of our brief encounter with the new shooter.

With a body design that closely resembles both Sony and Panasonic's handheld camera lines, Sony's PMW-F3 doesn't quite have the heft or robustness of a truly professional digital film camera -- it's still very much a prosumer option. Any disbeliever can just take a look at the relatively tiny onboard LCD monitor. At $16,000 for the camera body and an additional $7,000 for Sony's set of three overly large primes (35mm, 50mm, 85mm), the PMW-F3 seems too pricey for what you get.

The test photography proudly showed off the camera's perseverance in low light, but never pushed color correction to any extremes to show the point at which footage will break down. The camera shoots MPEG-2 Long GOP 4:2:0 8bit at 35 Mbps to two Sony SxS card slots, and dual link HD-SDI ports allow for recording full 4:2:2 to an external device. Those unfamiliar with Sony high-end offline / online workflow might find the process clumsy and cumbersome. Those accustomed to the workflow probably already use Sony's higher quality, professional-grade cameras.

The image quality of the PMW-F3 seems better than most DSLRs. Rolling shutter isn't bad. Warble and skew are minimized to extreme whip movements. Again, they didn't show off any sort of severe color correction so it's hard to say how well the colorspace holds up. Fancy Sony-only "stuff" like S-Log and Hypergamma will allow for tweaking. Overcranking for in camera slow-motion effects are disappointingly capped at 60fps.

The real selling points of the PMW-F3 are the plethora of proper in/out ports on the back of the camera and obviously the Super 35 sensor and PL mount. There's a lot of potential here to be sure, and while we wish it were offered at a more competitive price (say $10,000), it's still very much within striking distance of RED's position in the field. We'll only know for sure once the reviews start rolling in.

Jeffrey Max contributed to this article.

Show full PR text
Sony strengthens super 35mm digital production line-up with groundbreaking new camcorder

New PMW-F3 joins F35 and SRW-9000L as latest S-35mm innovation, delivering high-end performance
at an "indie" price

Basingstoke November 8, 2010:- Representing a breakthrough for filmmakers in terms of features,
performance and price, Sony Professional is adding to its line-up of Super 35mm digital motion picture camera technologies. The family, which includes the legendary F35 and the recently announced SRW-9000PL, is now joined by the all new PMW-F3 camcorder.

Each camera in the line-up is based on a Super 35mm sensor and PL mount technology, and illustrates Sony's unique ability to offer filmmakers access to the highest-quality imaging tools and most complete digital production workflows.

The new PMW-F3 is the latest example of Sony's efforts to combine performance and price into a
powerful and affordable production tool. Designed for television, commercials, music promos and
budget features, the new camcorder is offered at a price point that will bring Super 35mm shooting within reach of a wider audience.

That, and the availability of a low-cost PL lens kit model which includes 35/50/85mm T2.0 fixed focal length lenses, makes it ideal for use as a 2nd unit 35mm camera or as a B camera to the SRW-9000PL.

"Sony has a long and successful track record of developing digital motion production technologies," said Bill Drummond, Strategic Marketing Manager at Sony Professional Europe. "Our cameras have shot everything from documentaries to big-budget blockbusters, totaling many billions of Euros at the box office. With the new PMW-F3, we're putting the full power of our expertise to work, to bring precise control over depth of field, and access to the huge range of cinematic lenses available to a wider range of users."

The new PMW-F3 camcorder is based on Sony's XDCAM EX workflow (codec is MPEG-2 Long GOP 4:2:0
8bit, 35 Mbps), and uses Sony's SxS™ ExpressCard-based recording media format. Its Super 35mm CMOS imager delivers shallow depth of field, with high sensitivity and low noise levels (ISO 800, F11; and S/N ratio of 63dB in 1920x1080/59.94i mode), as well as wide dynamic range.

The camcorder offers a wide range of image creation options, as well as the ability to seamlessly inter-cut PMW-F3 footage with content shot on Sony's F35 or SRW-9000PL cameras - through the use of an HD-SDI dual-link output for external recording (4:2:2 1080 50/59.94P as standard; and RGB 1080 23.98/25/29.97PsF as an option).

Additionally, "S-LOG" and "Hyper Gamma" can be selected. This can allow users to take full advantage of the CMOS imager's wide dynamic range, giving them the ability to tailor their images during post-production in the same way they would in a film based workflow.

Recording formats include 1920x1080, 1440x1080, and 1280x720 at 23.98/25/29.97p, 50/59.94i and,
in DVCAM mode, 25/29.97PsF and 50/59.94i. Filmmakers can also take advantage of 'slow' and 'quick' recording, also known as "overcranking" and "undercranking" from 1 to 30 fps at 1920x1080 (17 to 30 fps in dual-link mode) and 1 to 60 fps at 1280x720 (17 to 60 fps in dual-link mode).

The PMW-F3's PL mount adapter can accommodate both PL and zoom lenses, and will offer compatibility with a variety of cine lenses such as Cooke, Arri, Fujinon and Zeiss.

Sony is also announcing its plan to introduce a compatible SR Memory Portable Recorder for the PMW-F3 camcorder. This will add a high-end workflow option as well as full RGB capability providing native recoding in HDCAM SR codec.

"We demonstrated a prototype PMW-F3 on our stand at IBC and have been inundated with requests
for more information ever since. It's great to be able to unveil the full list of features, and announce that first deliveries will be made well in advance of what many customers may have been expecting," concluded Drummond.

Two configurations of the PMW-F3 will be available (PMW-F3L body only and PMW-F3K with PL lens kit). First deliveries of are scheduled for January 2011.
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